Tchaikovsky Story

30 Mar

In our next unit, my juniors will be thinking about how we can use art (visual/performance/literary) to effect social change, to stand up for what is right. We’ll be studying poems and plays, paintings and viral images, protest murals and songs.

I wanted my students to practice thinking and analyzing without getting hung up on texts, so we listened to “Marche Slave” by Tchaikovsky. (Corrine Marks posted this lesson here.)

Before we got to the analysis, I had my students just listen to the song and try to tell a story that syncs with the music. I remember tuning into the local NPR station as a high schooler (before I really even knew what NPR was) and entertaining my friends by creating an improv story along with whatever classical music was playing.

Here’s the story I wrote today during Tchaikovsky’s composition:

Peter trudged through the swamp, Spanish moss dangling from barren branches. His foot plunged into the midnight black ooze, pins and needles lit up bare ankle as he pulled free. To the south, he saw a gravel path. It wound slightly uphill, out of the ooze. Dust motes danced in the air as a streak of sunshine pointed the way.

As soon as he stepped out of the shadows of the creek, a snarling dog bounded out from a thorny shrub. Peter stumbled in his attempt to flee. He bounced up before his knee even hit the ground. He raced up the path, the black dog, full of matted fur and slobbery jowls, snapped at his heel with each step. He couldn’t run any faster, but somehow he did. He jumped a small gulley where a bridge used to stand. The planks lay rotted in a heap down below.

The dog lost interest. It slunk back to its shrub where Peter could vaguely see a tangled mass of puppies.

Peter looked further up the hill. An old farmhouse stood with candles burning in one window. Peter climbed the path, listening for voices. As he crept closer to the porch, he tried to discern if anyone was inside. He stretched up on his tiptoes. Rubbed some grime off the windows.


Peter looked behind him. Nothing was there. He looked closer inside the house.

The canldes were moving. Dancing even. He couldn’t see anyone holding them; the shadows were too dark inside. The candles danced in a complex rotation. Peter was in awe. He didn’t hear the footsteps this time.

Someone grabbed him by the back of his collar. Pulled him off his tiptoes. Tipped him onto his backside.

He looked up into an angry face. Dark eyes scrunched together, a crease between the eye brows. Shoulders hunched as the woman leaned over his face.

“What are you doing here? You don’t belong here? Why are you at my home?”

Peter stuggled to escape her grip. It was iron. He fell back on his seat. “I…Peter…I’m Peter. The swamp. An angry dog.”

She dropped him and he somehow fell back to the ground again.

Peter tried to gather his thoughts. “I…was in the swamp.” He pointed at his grimy feet.

“Yeah. I can see. Smells like you’ve been in a barn recently too. Lucky Bessie, the dog, didn’t catch ya near her pups.”

Peter stood up, ready to bolt if necessary.

“Well, go on, wash up out back. I’ll at least give you a bite of supper before you continue on. Least I can do. Looks like you need it.”

Peter looks at her confused.

“Well, I’ve needed a hand on occasion. Looks like you’re needing one right now. Hustle up. Soups gonna be cold, boy.”

This was quick first draft. It was tough to keep up with the changes in the song, even though I’ve listened to a couple of times. I’m excited to see how my students interpreted the various tempos and keys. We’ll add some visual analysis to our repetoire next.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 30, 2021 in Uncategorized


One response to “Tchaikovsky Story

  1. natashadomina

    March 30, 2021 at 4:06 pm

    The story you’ve written is so rich and detailed–you’re making me want to listen to this piece of music to see if I can hear all those layers you’ve put into the story. I enjoyed the vivid imagery of your story–the dust motes dancing in the sunshine, the smell of the swamp, the dancing candles…Lovely!


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